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Definitions of leisure, play, and recreation


Defining leisure, play, and recreation provides us as leisure professionals with a strong
foundation for the programs, services, and facilities that we provide. While we might disagree on
the standard definition of leisure, play, or recreation, we are all concerned with providing an
experience for participants. Whether we work in the public, private nonprofit, or commercial
sector, all three concepts are driving forces behind the experiences we provide. Table 1.1
outlines the basic definitions of leisure, play, and recreation.
Definitions of Leisure
There is debate about how to define leisure. However, there is a general consensus that there are
three primary ways in which to consider leisure: leisure as time, leisure as activity, and leisure as
state of mind.
Leisure as Time
By this definition leisure is time free from obligations, work (paid and unpaid), and tasks
required for existing (sleeping, eating). Leisure time is residual time. Some people argue it is the
constructive use of free time. While many may view free time as all nonworking hours, only a
small amount of time spent away from work is actually free from other obligations that are
necessary for existence, such as sleeping and eating.
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Leisure as Activity
Leisure can also be viewed as activities that people engage in during their free timeactivities
that are not work oriented or that do not involve life maintenance tasks such as housecleaning or
sleeping. Leisure as activity encompasses the activities that we engage in for reasons as varied as
relaxation, competition, or growth and may include reading for pleasure, meditating, painting,
and participating in sports. This definition gives no heed to how a person feels while doing the
activity; it simply states that certain activities qualify as leisure because they take place during
time away from work and are not engaged in for existence. However, as has been argued by
many, it is extremely difficult to come up with a list of activities that everyone agrees represents
leisureto some an activity might be a leisure activity and to others it might not necessarily be a
leisure activity. Therefore, with this definition the line between work and leisure is not clear in
that what is leisure to some may be work to others and vice versa.
Leisure as State of Mind
Unlike the definitions of leisure as time or activity, the definition of leisure as state of mind is
much more subjective in that it considers the individuals perception of an activity. Concepts
such as perceived freedom, intrinsic motivation, perceived competence, and positive affect are
critical to determining whether an experience is leisure or not leisure.
Perceived freedom refers to an individuals ability to choose the activity or experience in that the
individual is free from other obligations as well as has the freedom to act without control from
others. Perceived freedom also involves the absence of external constraints to participation.
The second requirement of leisure as state of mind, intrinsic motivation, means that the person is
moved from within to participate. The person is not influenced by external factors (e.g., people
or reward) and the experience results in personal feelings of satisfaction, enjoyment, and
gratification. Perceived competence is also critical to leisure defined as state of mind. Perceived
competence refers to the skills people believe they possess and whether their skill levels are in
line with the degree of challenge inherent in an experience. Perceived competence relates
strongly to satisfaction, and for successful participation to occur, the skill-to-challenge ratio must
be appropriate.
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Positive affect, the final key component of leisure as state of mind, refers to a persons sense of
choice, or the feeling people have when they have some control over the process that is tied to
the experience. Positive affect refers to enjoyment, and this enjoyment comes from a sense of
choice. What may be a leisure experience for one person may not be for another; whether an
experience is leisure depends on many factors. Enjoyment, motivation, and choice are three of
the most important of these factors. Therefore, when different individuals engage in the same
activity, their state of mind can differ drastically.
Definition of Play
Unlike leisure, play has a more singular definition. Play is imaginative, intrinsically motivated,
non-serious, freely chosen, and actively engaging. While most people see play as the domain of
children, adults also play, although often their play is more entwined with rules and regulations,
which calls into question how playful their play really is. On the other hand, childrens play is
typified by spontaneity, joyfulness, and inhibition and is done not as a means to an end but for its
inherent pleasure.
Definition of Recreation
There is some consensus on the definition of recreation. Recreation is an activity that people
engage in during their free time, that people enjoy, and that people recognize as having socially
redeeming values. Unlike leisure, recreation has a connotation of being morally acceptable not
just to the individual but also to society as a whole, and thus we program for those activities
within that context. While recreation activities can take many forms, they must contribute to
society in a way that society deems acceptable. This means that activities deemed socially
acceptable for recreation can change over time.
Examples of recreational activities are endless and include sports, music, games, travel, reading,
arts and crafts, and dance. The specific activity performed is less important than the reason for
performing the activity, which is the outcome. For most the overarching desired outcome is
recreation or restoration. Participants hope that their recreation pursuits can help them to balance
their lives and refresh themselves from their work as well as other mandated activities such as
housecleaning, child rearing, and so on.
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People also see recreation as a social instrument because of its contribution to society. That is,
professionals have long used recreation programs and services to produce socially desirable
outcomes, such as the wise use of free time, physical fitness, and positive youth development.
The organized development of recreation programs to meet a variety of physical, psychological,
and social needs has led to recreation playing a role as a social instrument for well-being and, in
some cases, change. This role has been the impetus for the development of many recreation
providers from municipalities to nonprofits such as the YMCA, YWCA, Boy Scouts of America,
Girl Scouts of the USA, and the Boys and Girls Clubs of America. There are also for-profit
agencies, such as fitness centers and spas, designed to provide positive outcomes.

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